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tv   Inside the Litter Police - Panorama  BBC News  May 19, 2017 3:30am-4:01am BST

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now on bbc news, panorama. litter is a big problem. £2 billion spent on cleaning up litter and waste last year. the public wants to see something done about litter. an increasing number of fines are being issued on behalf of councils. it's causing real anger. all i want to do is pick up the poo that you say i'm responsible for. look at this poor old man. you alright, mate? look, and they're abusing him, you scumbag. many of the fines are being handed out by private companies, who often split the takings with the local authority. there are millions to be made. so is this really about preventing litter, or increasing profits? now, we're all one slip away from a criminal record.
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amber langtry, a graphic designer from brighton, faced the possibility of a criminal record after a council employee accused her of failing to clear up a dog poo, a poo, she says, her german shepherd olive never did. my friend and i decided to take the dogs for a walk in the park. the dogs had run off—lead, immediately gone to the toilet. we'd picked it up, put it in the bins. we were actually on our way out of the park. i could hear somebody shouting behind me. turned round, and i could see this man in a uniform with a high—vis jacket. i would like to walk over there, it'll take about five minutes. you can come with me. i'll pick up the poo that you say i'm responsible for. the man in the high—vis jacket is a local authority litter enforcement officer. he claimed olive had done a poo,
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but wouldn't tell amber where it was. i'm actually trying to remove the dog poo that this man won't allow me to. the time is 11:50, i'll caution you. you do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence, if you (inaudible) later rely on in court. he read me my rights. that was confusing, because i thought that was a police power. he didn't seem to work for the police, but he was dressed like a police officer. where is it? the litter enforcement officer still hadn't shown amber the alleged poo. he kept piling on the pressure. stand by, i'm going to call the police now. amber says she found the whole experience intimidating. i think that's a deliberate ploy, to confuse people and to scare them into accepting the fine. show us the poo. where is this phantom poo that my dog is supposedly responsible for? i realised that he was basically there to try and extort money from me, on behalf of the council. after a complaint from amber,
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tower hamlets council in east london dropped the case. it told us that environmental enforcement officers change people's behaviour by fining irresponsible dog owners. an increasing number of enforcement officers are now provided by private companies. they often share ticket revenue with the local authorities that hire them. the local government association says its members have suffered significant budget reductions. bringing in fully accountable private companies may be better value. but it's a development that concerns civil liberties group the manifesto club. they say, look, we'll come in, we'll deliver the service for you. it won't cost you anything, you won't have to do anything. and so it's a very seductive offer to say, hand it over to us, sign it over to us, and we will make you a bit of money, and you won't lose anything. and this was very concerning for us, because essentially what you have
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here was a fine on the behalf of a public authority being contracted out to somebody that basically has anything but public interest at heart, and so very much is seeking to make money. the most widely used company is kingdom services, based near warrington. it has 28 contracts with local authorities in england and wales. it made a gross profit of £9 million last year, up more than 30% on the year before. enforcement officers from companies like kingdom issue fixed—penalty notices of up to £80 at a time. but one man from hertfordshire didn't take his fine lying down. i could have been charged with a criminal record for doing nothing wrong. luke gutheridge helps out on his dad's market stall. the company responsible for environmental enforcement here, until recently, was kingdom. it was a nice, summer's day.
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i had a bag of fruit in my left hand. i begin to unpeel the orange with my right hand. by accident, luke dropped a small piece of orange peel, which was spotted by an eagle—eyed kingdom officer. it involves the orange peel that you've dropped on the floor there. i put it all in the... there is a peel on the floor there, sir. i retraced my footsteps and it was the size of a 50p piece. i picked it up and put it in the bin. he started to issue a fine. 0k, unfortunately, it's still an offence, contrary to section 87 of the environmental protection act. unfortunately, it's still an offence. even though luke had dropped the orange peel by accident, and picked it up, the kingdom officer was determined to proceed. what will happen is i'll be issuing a fixed penalty notice for some £75, payable within 14 days. well, i was shocked that i received a ticket. there was nothing to do once you receive the ticket, you had the ticket. and then i was going to basically
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appeal the case, because why should i pay for something i didn't do? neither kingdom nor the council had reckoned with luke's mum, who works for a lawyer. my main concern was trying to find any case law. had somebody been prosecuted before? and the cases that i did find were people who actually did litter, but there was nothing like this. nobody had actually challenged. so this was a one—off, actually. kingdom's own body—camera footage shows that the enforcement officer failed to follow guidelines set out by defra, the government department responsible for policing litter. the defra guidance says, look, in cases such as this, then it's not good to prosecute. so in luke's case, quite clearly, had the officers merely wished to carry out the spirit of the act, they would have said, 0k, nota problem. end of story. in court, magistrates accepted that luke had dropped the peel
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accidentally, and acquitted him. but his decision to fight wasn't easy. had he lost, he could have been fined £2,500 and got a criminal record. standing in the box, just, you know, saying the oath was a bit daunting, really. had we not appealed, or we weren't in the financial position to, he could have ended up with a criminal record for life, for dropping a piece of orange peel. it'sjust nonsense and just disgusting, to be quite honest. broxbourne council told us that the local government ombudsman found that it had acted without fault when it issued the fixed penalty notice and decided to prosecute luke. figures suggest that, as more councils use private contractors, the number of fines has soared. to start with, the fines were very low—level, about 15,000 a year. now we're seeing really an exponential increase, with almost 150,000 fines a year. so really you're seeing, over time,
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this moving from something that's quite marginal to something that is becoming a real trend. so it seems more and more people are at risk of finding themselves in the frame. one of the companies likely to fine them if they stray — kingdom. we've heard that officers are incentivised to fine as many people as possible, something the company denies. to find out how kingdom goes about its business, we've decided to send in an undercover reporter. she gets a job in the london borough of bexley. her training starts with a lecture on how a litter—free environment is in the public interest. our undercover reporter wants to understand exactly how
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the business works in bexley. she probes another manager. kingdom's website says it doesn't reward staff only for the number of tickets they issue. it says that they do get a competency allowance, which also takes into account attendance, punctuality, and positive public and customer feedback. the manager has just described the competency allowance as a bonus,
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and made it clear that it's based on the number of tickets issued. there's no mention of attendance, punctuality, and positive public and customer feedback. at lunchtime, our reporter's fellow trainees are excited about how much money there is to be made.
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the trainee planning to dish out fines like smarties is going to be based in ealing, west london. can i have a coffee please? white, no sugar. it was in ealing that retired civil servant sue peckitt was served with a fixed penalty notice. she'd allegedly polluted the water course. on the day, i bought myself a takeaway cup of coffee. i thought i want rid of this, because i was rushing to a meeting. i took the coffee, and i put the coffee down the drain in the road.
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and then i walked towards the waste bin. when the enforcement officer stopped me and told me i was going to be fined, and it was illegal to put coffee down a drain in a public place. to avoid a criminal record, sue paid the fine, but then went to her local paper. the council caved in, and handed her money back. kingdom apologised and sent her a £20 gift voucher. it's pure greed on the part of the enforcement officers, i would say. and in no stretch of the imagination could you say that the liquid from the coffee cup is cross—contamination, when it's going in a sewer, and she placed the coffee cup in the bin. ealing council told us the officers who fined sue made an error ofjudgement, but that the vast majority of fines are correctly issued. in bexley, our undercover reporter is learning the ropes from more experienced officers. this one is scouring the town for litterers.
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the number one target is smokers. it's not long before they get one. he applies pressure to get the man's details. he needs them in order to issue the £80 fixed penalty notice. as the man wavers, the officer threatens to call the police. the man is dealt with. the kingdom officer tells our reporter that he routinely pretends to call the police. what our reporter's
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witnessed isn't a one off. kingdom's instructor even talked about it in training. any decision to prosecute is made by the local authority. over lunch our reporter asks the kingdom officer how he's paid. he's guarded. do you get a bonus if you do really
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well? so, it seems clear, if you work for kingdom, the more you fine, the more you earn. in a statement, the company told us its competency allowance isn't to incentivise officers to issue fines, it says the allowance is discretionary and only paid if officers meet all their basic competencies. in ealing, kingdom officers have come up with a new tactic — they ride on council trucks to check on people's rubbish. it's not gone down well. the borough has a very big problem with fly—tipping, i appreciate that. but they're targeting the wrong people. this ballet instructor fell foul of
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the officers last christmas. on the 29th december, i put my recycling out two days later than usual. due to the holiday christmas time recycling always changes. so, i put the big blue recycling bin out. six small extra bags of recycling, and my green food bin. nothing unusual. everyone doing the same. about a week later, i received a fixed penalty notice for £80 for fly—tipping on to the public highway outside my own property. the notice felt quite forceful. you have to pay it or you're going to be taken to court. you're going to be prosecuted. the consequences of losing in court would have been severe. you have to pay court costs and you get a criminal record on top of that. i decided as soon as i saw that,
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that i was not gonna pay it. liz took the case to her local mp and paper. the council backed down and dropped it, saying the decision to fine liz was an error of judgment. it told us that it expects the highest standards and a common sense approach from kingdom. i think it's fine if the council get a private company to enforce these fines, but they need to target the right offenders and not people that just want to have their recycling taken away. even if you do the public spirited thing, you could fall foul of these wardens. they're not enforcing the public spirited law. essentially they have a different agenda. it is about making a target, which involves a different knowledge, in a way. it involves knowing, for example, this is a really good spot because if you stand here people tend to put out their cigarettes to get on the bus in a rush.
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there is no cigarette bin. they learn the tricks more than they learn the law. britain's leading antilitter pressure group says it is vital there is public confidence in enforcement. the cost of clean—up topped over £1 billion last year. that is the cost of clearing up litter. if you add to that the cost of waste crime, that is another £1 billion. £2 billion spent on cleaning up litter and waste. enforcement is one of the methods we can use to change people's behaviour, but it needs to be fair and have the public on our side. back in bexley, our undercover reporter is learning the techniques of the trade. she's learnt how to fake calls to the police to get people to pay up. she's now being shown another rouse — lying low. and her instructor's got another technique. in court, the prosecution must show the accused intended to leave the litter.
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on the street, a fine can be issued as soon as the person moves away from it. there is a way of making this happen. in training, a kingdom managersays the company's only interested in working with councils who want to adopt a hard—line approach. our undercover reporter and her boss are patrolling.
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they spot two men, one of them is smoking. the boss decides to follow. we were crossing the road and we saw them pass. my brother asked me, who are they? i thought they were traffic wardens. the officer sees one of the men drop his cigarette butt and follows him into a shop. it should be an open and shut case, but there's a problem. i was trying to put forward to the officer that my brother is not understanding anything and he was not resident in this country. but he wouldn't listen. kingdom's training manual says its officers shouldn't issue fixed penalty notices to people living outside the uk. carlos gives the officer some important information.
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i tried to put forward to the officer about my situation and showed him my dressing. but he wouldn't listen. the officer issues the ticket to a man who lives outside the uk. it is sent to the home of his sick brother. i started to feel really, really anxious that something will happen to me because he was maybe the first time i get so excited after the operation. you don't know how you will react because it is something new.
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my strategy was let him finish. if he wants an address, i will give him my address. if he wants anything else, i will do anything to get out because i need to go back home because i started to get panicky. worried about carlos's health the brothers gave up. they now intend to fight the case. the experience has left carlos deeply suspicious about the deal between dinning dom and bexley council. i am very untrustful about this relationship between the private companies and councils. they become sticky. the companies weren't put people as the first priority. kingdom says officers are trained to exercise their individual professional judgment about issuing fines to non—uk residents, who have no immunity from committing environmental offences. bexley council says environmental enforcement is reducing littering and that the public have given it positive feedback. nationally, companies like kingdom can enforce even more
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anti—social behaviour laws. the latest, a public spaces protection orders, or pspos. these allow councils to ban some actives they consider undesirable. this prohibition which is obviously broad in the extreme is being enforced by private companies on commission basis. so i think you have got a worrying combination of on one hand broad powers given to local authorities to create new crimes and then the right for local authorities to contract out the enforcement of those crimes to private companies on a commission basis. in the forest of dean, the council working without an enforcement company tried to use these new powers to overturn a right some local people say has
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existed since magna carta. come on then... the right to graze your sheep on any piece of common land. come on! the council said there'd been complaints. incident 280. three lambs and ewes walking around at 3am. incident, bleating. why shouldn't they walk around at 3pm? 297, ewe and lamb, two lambs roomed all day. 12 sheep present. came back at 10:30. some unmarked. the pspo would have banned sheep from grazing on common land in the village of bream. any shepherd who broke this could have faced a fixed penalty notice. the shepherds say they are worried it would not have stopped there.
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the problem with this open spaces order is it could be extended to cover the whole or any part of the forest at any given time at the stroke of a pen. we considered that that could well have been the end of commoning and the end of free roaming sheep. for now, the shepherds have seen off the proposal. but they remain worried that it could be reintroduced. and contracted out to a private company, like kingdom. the forest of dean council told us that the planned pspo was introduced because of irresponsible shepherding and that it couldn't have been extended without public consultation and a vote of the full council. complaints about enforcement officers have led to pressure for a national training academy. we would like all enforcement
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officers to be properly trained. we would like them all to understand what needs to be achieved within the guidelines and i think we need to continually check with the public that this is very much done on their behest. kingdom says it believes its training is extensive and effective. that basic training lasts for at least 12 months and that there are stringent checks of enforcement officers. but there is opposition to companies like kingdom being involved in policing laws at all. before the early 1800s we had thief catchers. everybody knew they would catch people who were not thieves because they would get the money. there is the idea this person is not trying to punish you for the sake of it. and i think that is something that should be of concern to all members of the public, whether they find themselves on the receiving end of these fines or not. private companies are now being paid
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to enforce the criminal law. the more people they fine, the more they can make. while this continues, and companies like kingdom keep winning contracts, more and more of us are at risk of being branded criminals. welcome to bbc news, broadcasting to viewers in north america and around the globe. i'm mike embley. our top stories: president trump lashes out at the decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate russian influence on his election. well, i respect the move but the entire thing has been a witch—hunt, and there is no collusion certainly between myself and my campaign. brazil's president rejects calls for him to resign over allegations of involvement in a huge corruption scandal. a young woman dies as a car hits a crowd of pedestrians in times square. it's not thought to be connected with terrorism. and they're considered one of the most harmful exotic
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